December 24, 2013

A Christmas miracle for Liverpool

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

The traditional colours for Christmas are red, white and green – well, they got the first one right this year.

Who would have thought back on the eve of the season, with Luis Suarez in the midst of his 10-game suspension, that Liverpool would be on top of the Premier League table when the Reds woke up on Christmas morning.

That’s the case after Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Cardiff and Arsenal’s draw with Chelsea put Liverpool ahead of the Gunners on goal differential.

Liverpool has faced all kinds of adversity this season and has overcome it. It all started in the summer with Suarez suspended and angling his hardest to leave Merseyside for a bigger club. It continued when top players Phillipe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard all went down to injury, missing varying lengths of time. A failed experiment with playing three across the back didn’t slow down this side either.

Different players have stepped up at different times, with lesser lights like Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen cropping up in the right spots and Kolo Toure showing he can still be a capable Premier League defender.

But the biggest story is of course Suarez, who scored two more goals on Saturday and added an unselfish assist on a 2-on-0 break with Sterling.

The acting captain with Gerrard out has even signed a new long-term contract, that the team hope can keep him from forcing his way out, as he nearly did in the summer.

It’s time to shake off the stigma of recent seasons and talk about Liverpool being a title contender. The fact that it can lead the league at this point in the season is proof enough that it is.

Sure, the Reds have their flaws, but who doesn’t this season? It is a campaign that may not be won by the team that plays best, but the team that hides its weaknesses best. At this point, that might be Liverpool.


Who would have thought that it wouldn’t be a big-name manager like Andres Vilas-Boas to get Tottenham really firing this season? Instead, it was caretaker manager Tim Sherwood who sent out an aggressive team and took three points from upstart Southampton.

Sherwood even put out-of-favour striker Emmanuel Adebayor back into the lineup and was rewarded for it. The Togo international scored twice, which gives him three in two starts including the midweek Cup fixture.

Based on this limited body of work, it seems that the bosses at White Hart Lane were sufficiently impressed, handing Sherwood the reins of the team until the end of next season.

His simplistic style of play – defenders play defence, midfielders play midfield, attackers attack – isn’t going to win any plaudits for tactics, but seems to work. It’s a bit of a return to the days of Harry Redknapp, who was infamous for his lack of caring about tactics.

The real question facing Sherwood is can he get this team full of new faces to bond and rally into a Champions League spot either this year or next. That is what he’ll ultimately be judged on; not whether he gets Spurs playing attractive football or not.

As for Southampton, we knew that it would start crumbling soon. It’s too hard to play at this calibre when you aren’t a deep side. Once injuries start accumulating, you’re left with guys who are relics from its days in the Championship and aren’t quite up to snuff in the Premiership. While we can see them staying in the top half easily, we’re thinking that Europe is a little out of reach for now.


It was quite the game for Vincent Kompany and Manchester City. First, he scores to put City up 2-0 going into the half. Then, he scores Fulham’s second on one of the worst own goals of the season, slicing a clearance past his keeper and another defender. It was quite the sight for a world-class player to nearly blow it against a low-table team like the Cottagers. But City wouldn’t lie down and actually came back on the road to secure the needed three points … Hey, Joe Hart got a start! I guess everybody has to play during the congested Christmas fixture list … Manchester United is making the most out of their soft schedule, climbing the table by beating up on lesser lights. Its win over West Ham puts it just eight points off the top now, though it sits in eighth place … I wonder if Jake Livermore is going to foot the bill for that camera he smashed in his celebration. The Hull midfielder blatantly kicked the expensive equipment for no real reason – nice guy! … While I’m usually the first to complain about the usually weak 12:30 p.m. tilt, it kind of sucked having nothing to watch in the earlier afternoon. It was the equivalent of not having Sunday Night Football, a nice cap to a fine day … Jose Mourinho sure knows how to make a non-event out of a big clash. I’m sure the weather aided the fact that the Chelsea-Arsenal tilt ended at 0-0, but it seems that Chelsea was a lot more concerned with defending than going forward. He did the same earlier this season at United and Tottenham, playing for the draw instead of going for it.


While they’re both large sides and can accommodate the some squad rotation, isn’t it a bit unfair that Chelsea and Arsenal had to play on Monday and also as part of the Boxing Day madness? Most teams played on Saturday and have four days before their next match, the Gunners and Blues have just two. Throw in the fact that there are also games next weekend, with Arsenal and Chelsea both playing Sunday, and that’s three games in six days – hardly a fair scheduling quirk.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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